The Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA), having acquired ratification by signatory Pacific Island Countries (PICs), came into force in 2003. However, some 18 years later, the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is only being implemented by half (seven PICs) of its membership. Clearly, the FTA’s impact on the desired regional economic integration can only be perceived as rudimentary, if any at all. Moreover, its raison d´ȇtre, as an entry point to the eventual formation of an economic union, envisaged by the foundational regional leaders way back in 1971, is really nothing to write home about.
However, the prospects may be changing for the better. The European Development Fund (EDF), disbursed under the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement, potentially has the means to turn the situation around – to bring about the much-needed regional economic integration amongst all the PICs. This will then strengthen the basis of extra-PICs trade and economic integration with Australia and New Zealand under the PACER Plus FTA, and similarly with the EU under the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA) as well as with the comprehensive EPA when that comes into effect in the future.
During the process of developing regional economic integration, regional planners can then, with benefit of gainful foresight, put in place a policy framework that will guide the region to the eventual realisation of this long-standing objective of an economic union. The policy framework should identify the various integrational phases that PICs have to necessarily undergo – their implications on PICs’ indispensable sovereignty, and what all this will mean in the structural edifice of Pacific regionalism.
The EU’s Pacific Regional Integration Support Programme (PRISE) under the existing EDF tranche has a component earmarked for ‘Strengthening Pacific Intra-Regional and International Trade Project’ (SPIRIT). It specifically aims to boost and increase intra-regional and international trade by strengthening institutional and human capacity in the region. Further, it aims to facilitate the implementation of trade agreements and contribute to the development of a statistical monitoring framework for regional economic integration.
Given the sad state of PICTA and considering the immense benefit it could accrue for regional economic integration, this article proposes that part of the resources under SPIRIT be disbursed to enable full and effective implementation of the trade agreement.
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